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Promising Practices

Curricular and Administrative Processess & Procedures

One of the most far-reaching activities supported by the PhD Completion Project has been the adoption by participating institutions of new university-wide systems, or the enhancement of existing systems, for collecting and using data. Many universities have begun, for the first time, to systematically track attrition and use completion and attrition data to assess and review doctoral programs. In order to use these data more effectively, they have: revised quantitative data collection methods; implemented exit surveys for completing and departing students; tracked student departures from doctoral study; and analyzed patterns of attrition for their potential relation to other factors (such as financial support and university policies). Participating universities have also incorporated data on completion and attrition into the regular program review process, and used data to institutionalize best practices in other areas of intervention (e.g. selection and admissions, professional development) across all programs through campus-wide initiatives.

Promising Practices

Promising practices identified by participating universities in the area of administrative processes and procedures include:

  • Create/enhance institutional database on students via a web-based system to track student aid types
  • Monitor and track all students who leave
    • Identify students who fail to enroll each quarter/semester
    • Determine reasons for non-enrollment and plans for future enrollment
    • Study student data from the past ten years to assess patterns of attrition versus short-term enrollment gaps
    • Assess the relationship between official leaves of absence, enrollment and attrition
  • Introduce a continuous enrollment policy, which will serve as the impetus for students to stay on track and work collaboratively with their mentors towards their final goal of completing the degree
  • Merge two of the existing hard copy forms—Intention to Withdraw Notification used by the Graduate School registrar, and the Exit Survey for Ph.D. Students Withdrawing from the Graduate School administered by the Graduate School academic deans—into a single Web-based data-gathering instrument
  • Distinguishing the determinants of early versus late attrition
    • Assess the extent to which selection criteria as well as other student characteristics may be related to early attrition
    • Identify the determinants of attrition for students who are almost finished, but have yet to complete the final hurdle
  • Expand and refine graduate school and departmental policies and practices for matriculation, and track and report on Ph.D. student degree progress
  • Enhance recordkeeping and clarifying policy issues at the graduate school, including clarification and creation of policy relevant to doctoral completion and posting of completion figures for programs on website
  • Assess the state of our current knowledge about, attitudes towards, and practices in support of underrepresented students and women in the physical sciences via web surveys and focus groups of differing composition
  • Conduct exit surveys of both doctoral recipients and students who do not complete their doctoral work, and use feedback from surveys to develop solutions that will reduce attrition
  • The implementation of a campus wide-initiative to optimize doctoral completion through:
    • Raising awareness through a structured publicity campaign
    • Fostering program improvement through meetings between graduate school and program faculty
    • Supporting program improvement through an enhanced website
  • Assess the level of student engagement in promising practices
    • Survey doctoral students on their level of engagement in identified promising practices and professional development activities
    • Track student participation in professional development activities
  • Host a doctoral completion summit to present project data collected, to present and discuss data-driven intervention and outcome assessment strategies, and to discussion national trends in doctoral completion and attrition
  • Revise program review process to examine quality of each graduate program in terms of quality inputs, outcomes, and operational practices; include information and collected data on time-to-degree in review process to ensure department chairs have the necessary data needed to implement appropriate program modifications.
  • Test assumptions about admissions and recruitment through data-based evidence

Promising practices identified by participating universities in the area of curricular processes and procedures include:

  • Substantive and specific curricular modifications to participating programs
  • Create a terminal non-thesis MS program
  • Create “Direct BS to PhD” program

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